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The Stormers topped the South African conference and host Australia's Brumbies in Cape Town on Saturday. Photo: EPA

Stormers ‘good enough to beat anyone anywhere’

Coach Allister Coetzee bristles at suggestion Cape Town outfit are unworthy of place in Super Rugby play-offs


The Cape Town-based Stormers say they deserve their place in the Super Rugby play-offs and are capable of beating any team anywhere as they prepare to face the ACT Brumbies in the first knockout round on Saturday.

The Stormers earned their play-offs spot when they finished atop the South African conference, although their 45 championship points would only have been enough to place them seventh on the overall table.

After New Zealand conference winners the Hurricanes, and Australian defending champions the New South Wales Waratahs qualified automatically for next weekend's semi-finals, the Stormers took third place in the six-team play-offs by virtue of their conference supremacy.

When you understand the rules of the jungle, you play the rules of the jungle. Our aim was to be conference champions and then to play it from there
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee

Critics have questioned a play-offs system that does not reward the tournament's best-performed teams.

Without the weighting given to conference winners, the Highlanders - who host the Hamilton-based Chiefs in Dunedin on Saturday - would have finished second overall and the Waratahs third. The Chiefs would have finished fourth, the Brumbies fifth and seven-time champions the Christchurch-based Crusaders would have taken the sixth and last play-offs spot.

But Stormers coach Allister Coetzee hit back at critics, saying the Stormers' record of 10 wins and a draw from 16 games met their targets for the regular season and they earned their place in the knockout rounds.

"I keep hearing people saying that we were only seventh on the log, but I don't hear Crusaders, who would have finished sixth were that the way it worked, complaining about it," Coetzee said. "When you understand the rules of the jungle, you play the rules of the jungle. Our aim was to be conference champions and then to play it from there."

If the Stormers beat the Brumbies at Newlands today, they will face the Waratahs in Sydney in the following weekend's semi-finals. If the Brumbies are successful, they will play the Hurricanes in Wellington. The Waratahs would then face the winners of the match between the Highlanders and Chiefs.

Home advantage is usually substantial in the play-offs, but the Stormers have an unusually poor record in knockout matches in Cape Town. Only five teams have lost home play-off games in Super Rugby history and three of those have been lost by the Stormers.

The Highlanders are expecting a sellout crowd of 23,000 for their first play-off match in Dunedin since 1999. The return of co-captain Nasi Manu from a shoulder injury and All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa from a groin strain is likely to boost the Highlanders' bid to beat two-time champions the Chiefs for the third time this season. The Highlanders beat the Chiefs 20-17 and 36-9 in their two meetings in the New Zealand conference.

The Chiefs' form has wavered, but they did enough to clinch a play-offs place and are steeped in finals experience after winning the Super Rugby title in 2012 and 2013. "We've got a lot of players in here that have played finals footy and won a couple of championships. To have that experience to draw on is going to be vital," said hooker Hika Elliot, who yesterday signed a new two-year deal with the Chiefs.

Sam Cane, who has been the form openside flanker in New Zealand this season, said the Chiefs are adept at seizing chances in play-offs games. "It's another level, it's something you can't really prepare for," Cane said. "You've just got to get out there and rip into it."

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Stormers 'good enough to beat anyone anywhere'